PARO ALTITUDE 7, 600 feet / 2,280 meters
THIMPHU ALTITUDE 7,730 feet / 2,320 meters
DISTANCE PARO – THIMPHU = 54 kilometers / 33.75 miles time taken 2 hours
Fly from Bangkok to Paro on Druk Air. From a left window seat on clear days you can experience a spectacular view of Himalayan peaks as you approach Paro. On arrival you will be received by our representative and then start our two hours drive to Thimphu, the road winds along with the Paro River, until you arrive at the confluence of Paro and Thimphu River. From here we start north along the Thimphu River passing through paddy fields, villages and Apple orchards until we see the Capital City from a distance. We check in to our hotel, if time permits we will have sightseeing around Thimphu Valley. This will solely depend on the arrival time of the Druk Air. Overnight at Migmar or similar.
DAY 02 THIMPHU SIGHTSEEING
After a late breakfast, you will start your sightseeing of Thimphu with a visit to the Medicine Institute where traditional medicines are prepared according to ancient practices. Then we head to The Painting School where traditional art is still kept alive through instructions in the art of painting Thangkhas (sacred Buddhist religious scrolls). Followed by a stop at The Folk Heritage Museum, a nineteenth century house preserved to present the visitors with how middle class Bhutanese lived in the past. Next we will visit the National Library and head for lunch. After lunch, we will visit the Institute for Zorig Chusum (13 arts and crafts institute). Here we will witness the young Bhutanese being trained in the skill of 13 various arts and crafts of Bhutan. Then to visit the Textile Museum, the traditional gold and silver smith workshop, weaving center and other places of interest before heading back to the hotel.
DAY 03 THIMPHU-PUNAKHA
PUNAKHA: ALTITUDE: 4,162 feet / 1,250 meters
DISTANCE: 71 Kilometers / 44.38 miles
TIME: 2.5 hours driving
ALTITUDE GAIN: 2,730 feet & ALTITUDE LOSS 6,298 feet
After breakfast we will start our drive to Punakha early before the clouds come in and block the views of the Bhutan’s Snowcapped Mountain seen from the Dochula Pass. Leaving Thimphu the road climbs steeply through a forest of pine and cedar, festooned with hanging lichen high up near Dochula pass (10,460 feet / 3,140 m). This pass offers panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain ranges, as we descend along a series of hairpin bends to the fertile valley of Punakha (1,350 meters/ 4,162 feet). Before proceeding further to Punakha town we will hike up to the Chimi Lhakhang temple on a small hilltop. This temple is dedicated to the great Yogi in 14th century known as Drukpa Kuenley or popularly known as “Divine madman” to the westerners. It is believed that this temple blesses women who seek fertility; it is about 40 minutes of round trip walk. We proceed to hotel where lunch will be served. After lunch we will proceed to Punakha town to view the majestic Dzong (fortress), situated between the two rivers Pho Chu and Mochu (male and Female River). This fortress is now used as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan). In the past this Dzong was the capital seat of the Kingdom. Overnight at Meri Puensum Resort.
DAY 04 PUNAKHA – THIMPHU
THIMPHU: 7,730 feet / 2,320 meters
Distance: 71 Kilometers
TIME: 2.5 hours
Altitude Gain: 6,300 feet / Altitude Loss 2,730 feet
After Breakfast We start our journey to Thimphu back on the same lateral highway that we had come the other day. Once again we will stop at the Dochula Pass for few minutes for a leg stretch and photographs; if lucky we might be able to view Bhutan’s 200 mile snowcapped peaks in the north if we had missed the other day. Resume our journey, to Thimphu. Check into our hotel and lunch will be served here. After lunch we will visit the the Memorial Chorten (stupa). This stupa was built in the memory of His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, third king of Bhutan. We will then make a stop at Tashichho Dzong, the fortress that houses the main secretariat and the monk body. Overnight at Migmar or similar.
DAY 05 THIMPHU – DRUKGYAL DZONG – SHANA
Driving Distance 70 kilometers / 43.75 miles
Trekking Distance 9.3 miles / 15 kilometers and takes about 4 hours
Altitude gain 889 feet / 267 meters
Altitude loss 260 feet / 79 meters
After breakfast we will drive to Drukgyal Dzong (2,580m / 8,591 ft) 16 Kms from Paro town and 84 Kms from Thimphu, the drive takes a little more than 2 hours, built in 1647 by Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal, the Dzong was destroyed by accidental fire and left in ruins as an evocative reminder of the great victories it was built to commemorate. Explore the ramparts, village and on a clear day experience the spectacular view of Mt. Chomolhari (7,314 m / 23990ft).
The trek starts from here with a short downhill walk on a wide trail. After descending about 100 m, you reach the river where a primitive stone bath has been carved into the bank. Look back and see how well positioned the Dzong was to keep watch over this valley. Continue your trek upriver through a narrow agricultural valley. Your overnight camp will be at Shana Zampa, Alt 2,850 m /9,480 ft. Overnight at camp
DAY 06 SHANA – THANGTHANGKHA
Distance 13.6 miles / 21.76 kilometers and takes about 7-8 hours
Altitude gain 2,608 feet / 783 meters
Altitude loss 0feet / 0 meters
Today is a long day, so start early. The trail continues its gradual climb alongside the Paro Chhu through conifers and rhododendron. In places it is quite close to the river; if the water is high you might have to climb over a few small hills to get around places where the water has flowed onto the trail. About 15 minutes beyond Shana Zampa are the remnants of an old bridge with a house and a Chorten on the other side. At this point the route enters Jigme Dorji National Park.
The trail makes continuous, but gentle, climb on a rocky trail through Oaks, rhododendron and ferns, crossing several small streams. Your camp for tonight will be at Thangthangkha, elevation 3,630 m /12,088 ft. There is a small stone shelter and a Bhutanese style house in a cedar grove at the edge of the meadow.
DAY 07 THANGTHANGKHA – JANGOTHANG
Distance 8.7 miles / 14 kilometers and takes about 5-6 hours
Altitude gain 1,498 feet / 450 meters
Altitude loss 0feet / 0 meters
After enjoying the view to Jhomolhari and a good breakfast, we start our long day to the base camp. As we start the trek the view is gradually lost, but the mountain will be seen again in its full glory from Jangothang base camp. Today’s trail again follows the river and changes direction several times. Late in spring towards the tree line, the rare blue poppy, Bhutan’s national flower has been spotted. You will cross few villages, by now there should be a view towards the summit of the spiky peak Jitchu Drake about 22,470 feet / 6,850 meters. Cross a bridge and suddenly the overwhelming snow – and ice covered east face of Jhomolhari (23,995 feet appears, with its massive 3,200 meter high wall of granite, marble and quartzite. We have reached the Jhomolhari base camp alt. 4,090 m /13,415 ft.
DAY 08 HALT IN JANGOTHANG
Sun reaches camp at 0800 hrs in fall. Most people will feel the effect of ascending 6000 feet in three days, so a rest day at the base camp will help with acclimatization. However, those who wish to explore the vicinity of Jhomolhari, one can take a day hike. Although there are many good day hike, with only one day rest here we will not be able to do all, we have furnished you below two different day hikes for your choice.
- The most challenging day hike is up the steep, grassy ridge located next to camp to the north. It takes 3-4 hrs to reach the final rocky summit (15,610 feet). The views get better and better, first of Jitchu Drake and, at one point, when crossing over a ridge Jhomolhari is just opposite. The last part of the rocky summit can be tricky due to loose rocks and wind; bring a windproof jacket, gloves and hat.
- Another view point is the steep, grassy hill (16,334 feet) that starts from the second bridge at Jangothang. There is no real trail, just endless switchbacks uphill. It is about 3 hours climb to reach a prayer flag (clearly visible from camp) from where you get a superb view back to the Jhomolhari and Jitchu Drake group and the campsite. If it is wet, be careful on the descent.
You can also put your rest day to good use and enjoy the beauty of nature by just relaxing at the camp site.
DAY 09 JANGOTHANG – DHUMZO
Distance 13 miles / 21 kilometers and takes about 6-7 hours
Altitude gain 2,625 feet / 788 meters
Altitude loss 3,580 feet / 1,075 meters
Today is a tough day; we start early crossing the bridge, start a steep climb of about 1000 feet in a very short distance. There are breathtaking views of Mount Jhomolhari (23,995 feet), Jhomolhari II (22,770 feet), Mount Jichu Drake (22,925 feet) and down the valley to Jangothang camp site. After the ascent we arrive at flower carpeted meadow with several Yak herders tent (in spring) indicates the end of the climb. This area is normally known for flocks of Himalayan blue sheep and its predator Snow Leopards, look high up on the rocky slopes for blue sheep. Watch your footings; the ground is uneven and full of marmot burrows. After crossing the meadow you will find clear trail along the Tsho Phu River (Sometimes dry in spring). Continue further into the beautiful valley, with towering rocky peaks of over 16500 feet, there are beautiful views back towards Jhomolhari and Jichu Drake, which slowly disappears. We continue walking along the shore of the lake, then began to climb quite steeply. This steep part gains the top of the impressive rock face, with superb views of Jitchu Drake reflected in the lakes below. The trail winds up and into an upper valley, with snowcapped peaks in distance, leading to the Bhonte La (The Pass is first visible at the last 45 minutes). Bhonte La Pass (16,040 feet / 4,890 meters) is the highest pass of this trek. From the Pass there are views of the Basingthang peaks (around 18,500 feet) and a big snowy peak to the south called Chatarake (Dzo Drake, Jo Darkey; 18,300 feet). World’s Third highest mountain Kangchenjunga (28,160 feet) is visible if you climb up the higher peak east from the Pass. From the Pass the trail drops through a steep narrow gully, continuing through small grassy hill topped with a cairn. It begins to drop quickly to a large, grass covered area tucked beneath an enormous rock cliff and water fall. Leave this meadow and descend very steeply through a narrow gully, below the tree line. We finally arrive at our campsite, Dhumzo ( 12,460 feet).
DAY 10 DHUMZO – THOMBU SHONG
Distance 7 miles / 11 kilometers and takes about 4-5 hours
Altitude gain 2,420 feet / 740 meters
Altitude loss 1,370 feet / 420 meters
A small ascend from the camp through a forest of rhododendron, birch, and oak draped with mosses brings you to a meadow with a huge juniper tree. Continuing on the meadow the trail descends and crosses bridge. From here we Continue our ascend through a forest, then another climb of about 700 feet where we will be greeted by a prayer flag where there are some cairns and a beautiful view of Soe Yaksa Valley and surrounding mountains. A nice flat trail now skirts around the hillside covered with rhododendron bushes, changing direction slowly to the south. We continue for another one hour of climb to arrive at Takhung La Pass (14, 880 feet). The pass is decorated with several cairns wrapped in prayer flags. On both sides we can climb up small hills to get a good view of Jhomolhari, Jichu Drake, and Teri Gang, and in the distance Kangchenjunga (28,160 feet) and even Makalu (27,760 feet) blocking the view of Mount Everest. The trail first stays high to the left with some exciting drop offs, then winds gently downhill to the campsite at Thombu Shong (13,510 feet).
DAY 11 THOMBU SHONG – SHANA
Distance 9 miles / 14.5 kilometers and takes about 5-6 hours
Altitude gain 495 feet / 150 meters
Altitude loss 4,525 feet / 1,380 meters
We start our day by crossing the swampy area and then through a clear trail leading though the bushes of rhododendron and then climb steeply to Thombu La Pass (14,005 feet). Again the Pass is decorated with cairns and few prayer flags. One can get breathtaking views of Chatarake (Dzo Drake, Jo Darkey; 18,300 feet) at the southeast. Also with a little effort by climbing a small hill (14,270 feet) one can get great view of Kangchenjunga (28,160 feet) on the Sikkim- Nepal border as well as some smaller peaks of around 20,000 feet in North Sikkim. Nearer, on the Bhutan-Tibet border you will see Drake Gang (around 17,500 feet) the local male deity. The ridge walk from the pass is one of the best parts of the trek; the walk offers one with a good trail and beautiful views. After about an hour of walk we start our big descend. Edelweiss grows in abundance along the trail and huge lammergeyers or bearded vulture cruise on the warm uplifts of the valley below. The trail steeply descends for about 2-3 hours, be careful with your steps and your knees. We finally arrive at the day 5 campsite, SHANA.
DAY 12 SHANA – DRUKGYAL GANG and DRIVE TO PARO.
Trekking Distance 9.3 miles / 15 kilometers and takes about 4 hours
Altitude gain 260 feet / 80 meters
Altitude loss 1,020 feet / 310 meters
A four hour hike through the lovely valley ends our trek at Drukgyal Dzong, where our vehicles will be waiting for us to shuttle back to Paro for a rest and hot shower. Rest of the day free or we can explore the Paro valley. Overnight at Khangkhu or similar.
DAY 13 EXCURSION TO TIGER’S NEST
Today we will visit the world famous Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist pilgrim site. After breakfast our car will drop us at the starting point of the excursion to view the spectacular Taktsang monastery (Tiger’s lair). The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest, many of the trees festooned with Spanish moss, and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. You stop at the cafeteria for a rest and refreshments and continue the hike for short while until you see, clearly and seemingly within reach, the newly renovated Taktsang monastery. Originally built in 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. The history states that Guru Padmasambhava, the Tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in 8th century, landed here on the back of a flying tiger. Looking at the monastery flying tigers doesn’t seem so impossible after all. We can further continue to walk the small narrow winding path down and then up till the upper level of the monastery if the path is dry and not slippery. Lunch will be served at the cafeteria or another tourist standard restaurant in Paro town after returning from the monastery. After returning to the road head we will drive down south to visit the Kyichu lhakhang, this small temple is believed to have built in the 7th century by a Tibetan King known as Songtsen Gompo. Continue our drive south to visit Dungtse Lhakhang, it has three floors representing the hell, earth and heaven. The paintings in this temple are very old and interesting; during our visit in this temple please do not forget to carry a flash light, it is quite dark inside. We end our day here and return to hotel for a nice super. Overnight at hotel.
DAY 14 DEPART PARO
After breakfast our car will shuttle us to the Paro airport for our flight home.
TRIP RATING: Strenuous
ACTIVITIES: STRENOUSE HIKING Sightseeing, cultural and nature encounters
MEETING PLACE: Paro Airport, Bhutan TRIP END: Paro Airport, Bhutan
LODGING: 6 nights in hotels and lodges, 7 nights camping.